How to assist a disabled stranger without killing them…

All right, that is an exaggeration, but it isn’t as much of an exaggeration as I’d like it to be. I am incredibly grateful to live in a society where the main danger of having a disability is being accidentally knocked under a train by a person who was “only trying to help”, rather than that of being attacked and killed by someone who wants a disabled person’s body parts to use in a magic spell.

However, it is also true that as a culture we lack “manners” for offering and declining/receiving help in many situations, to a point where it is a serious problem, causing actual danger, loss of functionality or confidence, and mutual social resentment.

Here are some (obviously somewhat limited) suggestions about how to offer assistance without doing anything damaging or inappropriate.

Stop.  Think.  Ask.  Respect.

 

Stop:

Don’t panic. Disability is a fact of life, not an emergency.

 

Think:

Take your mind off the disability and note something else that is human about the other person. Are they wearing a wedding ring, a university hoodie, or the latest fashionable hairstyle?

Do they look as if they want help, or are they just getting on with life?

Is offering help at this moment going to make things harder rather than easier for them? If someone has visual impairment needs, wait until after the station announcements. If someone is in a wheelchair, do not move the wheelchair ramp they are trying to go up in order to be able to stand where you can speak to them!

 

Ask:

This stage is about establishing whether or not the person would actually like help.

If you think the person might want assistance and you are able to render it then:

Try to avoid rushing headlong towards someone – this can come across as threatening. We cannot read your minds either! You might be coming to offer help – or you might be rushing towards us with a knife…

Respect personal space generously.

Ask verbally if they would like help.

Never randomly grab or touch someone or their mobility aids without interacting with them first*. At best it isn’t appropriate – it leaves them with no polite way out of the situation if you get it wrong – and at worst it is extremely dangerous – as when someone has poor balance and they end up being knocked off the platform into the way of an oncoming train.

Open ended questions such as “would you like assistance?” are often best. Imagine your work colleague is swearing at their computer, or that you are a shop assistant not sure whether a customer wants to browse or wants to be served. This avoids the awkwardness involved in saying “would you like me to help you across the road?”, followed by an utterly blank face and the words, “What? I wasn’t trying to cross the road”!

Avoid starting with questions or statements which assume the other person wants help. Examples would be “which bus are you trying to catch?” and “I’m going to help you around this sign.” Make sure possible answers to your question include a polite “no, I’m fine, thank-you”.

Don’t pester. Repeat the question once in a slightly louder voice, if you think they might not have heard it, and if they ignore you, then leave them alone. They may need to concentrate and demanding their attention will make things worse.

 

Respect:

Remember, people with disabilities have the same autonomy as anyone else. They are entitled to decide to walk down the street without assistance – and get their feet wet in the puddles or whatever – no matter how stupid the person offering the help thinks they are being in refusing!

If the person says “no thank-you” to help, say something like “have a good day” and leave them alone at once. Don’t press them. I understand why people do, but the harassment value of that can become a problem, particularly when we’re talking to the 6th person to offer help in 8 minutes! In that type of situation, we need to be able to say no thank-you quickly and get on with what we are doing, without having to spend ages arguing about it.

If the person says “yes” to help, try to do what they ask as much as possible.

If you aren’t sure what they want you to do next, questions like “how would you like to do this?”; “do you want to take my arm?”, “would it help if I held your stick?”, are generally completely fine. People tend to get good at explaining what they need done.

 

Cherry Foster

 

 

*With visual impairment, I think this problem arises partly because it genuinely is appropriate to touch a person with VI with whom you are interacting more than you would someone fully sighted. This is because it is a way of using a different sense to compensate for the absence of vision.

However, while it is appropriate to use touch more when interaction has been established, in my opinion it is actually less appropriate to try to establish an interaction with a person with VI needs by touch, due to the fact that they may not know you are there.  (Unless they are also deaf – I have no idea what it is appropriate to do in those circumstances, as none of my “ask verbally like this” stuff can be assumed to work in that case. In the UK, people who are also deaf will often add red stripes to their white cane to alert people to the need for a modified response).

A letter to a hospital

Non-judgmentalism includes not judging when the issue is moral standards we believe in.

[I wish to raise a concern] about policy stated in a notice in the waiting room which I felt raises legitimate concerns about whether the paramount priority of patient care is being maintained.

The notice said that the hospital would not allow patients to refuse treatment from a particular member of staff on racist grounds, and that any refusal of treatment on such grounds could be considered refusal of treatment altogether.

I was horrified to find that any patient of yours refuses to be treated by a particular person for such reasons. Racism is very wrong, and its ongoing presence in our communities is rightly a deep concern.

However, I was more horrified that a hospital would consider responding to the problem in this particular way. Granted, patient care requires politeness and mutual respect, and I think it is quite reasonable to insist that no one responsible for their actions uses certain types of language within the hospital. But this is different from removing the patient’s autonomy to ask for a different doctor irrespective of whether their reason is good or bad.

For one thing, it creates a practical problem, at the minimum being a cover for incompetence, and at the worst, an abusers’ charter. Suppose a woman (or a man) believes that a doctor (or other member of staff) is using medical access to her body as a cover for groping her sexually, and that doctor is of a different race.

Such a policy puts her in a situation where if she requests to be transferred, but cannot prove a complaint, she is liable to be accused of racism if she requests to be treated by someone else. This may prevent her receiving treatment or trap her in a situation where the price of treatment is submitting to abuse. In cases where a person is not happy with the doctor’s competence, playing the race card to block their access to another doctor is likely to be even easier, as such concerns are often instinctive rather than analytical. The only way of preventing this is not to regard the patient’s possible reasons for making the request as a relevant factor.

I would also ask whether refusing someone treatment because they are being racist is really any different, in theory, from refusing a pregnant woman treatment because she refuses to marry the father of the child. The precise similarities and differences of the two cases are interesting, but the question is worth asking. It is usually argued that it is right for medical practice to aim to be non-judgemental about moral issues.

I appreciate the awfulness of racism, and the fact that the policy is a natural reaction to it. However, I think in the case of a hospital, it is necessary to stop at insisting that people must not be verbally or physically abusive, and not to reduce the autonomy of patients to make choices about who treats them.

 

Any thoughts, further arguments for this position, counter-arguments to it, or experiences of (probable or indisputable) racism in such circumstances, or of being accused of racism, or being unwilling to make a request for a different reason for fear of being accused?  It is hardly a simple question.

Cherry Foster

Posting the Book?

This is a series of questions called “The Ultimate Book Tag” which I preferred as a holiday post to trying to solve problems of theological praxis or how to sew zips in so they don’t tear back out.  It makes a change from posting a photograph of an animal!

1. Do you get sick while reading in the car?

Not usually.

2. Which author’s writing style is completely unique to you and why?

Uh, what?  If that means, “Which of the authors I have read has the most unique style?”, then, um, probably Shakespeare.

3. Harry Potter Series or the Twilight Saga? Give 3 points to defend your answer.

I haven’t read the Twilight Saga, and I didn’t finish Harry Potter.  I suppose that counts as a vote for Harry Potter, but it might be hard to justify it at length.

4. Do you carry a book bag? If so, what is it in (besides books…)?

No.  I put books in my bag.  I do not carry a book bag.

5. Do you smell your books?

Not on purpose.  Well, not usually.  At least, not on a daily basis.

6. Books with or without little illustrations?

With if the illustrations match the text and have artistic quality.  Without if not.  I never appreciated the type of book which described a golden arrow resting on a red velvet cushion, but accompanied the text with an illustration of a silver arrow resting on a gold and blue brocade cushion.

7. What book did you love while reading but discovered later it wasn’t quality writing?

Goodness, I’ve enjoyed a lot of books enormously which I’d hardly feel were exactly masterpieces of literary composition.

8. Do you have any funny stories involving books from your childhood? Please share!

There was the time when I tried to borrow a book on pregnancy (an age-appropriate book about biological development, not a book depicting graphic or inappropriate sex) from the primary school library, and got forbidden in case my parents objected!  They didn’t.  Despite having established that, the teacher the following year tried to forbid it all over again.

Why on earth the book wasn’t marked reference if they objected to its being borrowed, or kept out of reach of the younger kids if they thought it wasn’t appropriate, I never found out.

9. What is the thinnest book on your shelf?

On my shelf?  In the singular?  What?

10. What is the thickest book on your bookshelves?

Probably “The Complete Works of Shakespeare”, though at least one of the Bible commentaries runs it fairly close.

11. Do you write as well as read? Do you see yourself in the future as being an author?

Yes, I write.  But being “an author” or not is something of an “how long is a piece of string” question.

12. When did you get into reading?

As soon as I could read, though I didn’t enjoy stories until I was probably 9 or 10.  The school made such a fuss about that.  Somehow not wanting to read stories is a sign of depravity!  Or something.

13. What is your favourite classic book?

Probably “The Lord of the Rings”, though “The Blue Castle”, “Alice in Wonderland”, and “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe”, run it pretty close.

14. In school was your best subject Language Arts/English?

No.  It really was not.  Though I did better at secondary school because I actually liked literature.  Not that this always helped because people were obsessed with the notion that we’d find it boring.  So instead of being allowed to enjoy something like the Ancient Mariner and write on it and how it worked we had to carve it up and turn it into a film.

(Yes.  I do have strong opinions on education.  Moving on…)

15. If you were given a book as a present that you had read before and hated…what would you do?

Leave it quietly on a bookshelf somewhere for sentimental reasons.  Though it might find its way to a charity shop in the end.

16. What is a lesser known series that you know of that is similar to Harry Potter or the Hunger Games?

The Worst Witch.  Which I think is actually better composed than Harry Potter* from a literary point of view.  It is more coherent, the text is more tightly composed without unnecessary happenings or words, and the characters and the plot fit together better.

*Such of it as I’ve read.

17. What is a bad habit you always do (besides rambling) while blogging?

Forgetting to tag the posts.  It happens about half the time and then I have to go back and edit them.

18. What is your favourite word?

Well, if you mean, “what word do I use most often?” I would guess probably “it”?  Or perhaps “to” or “the”.

If you mean “what word do I like the most,” well, difficult.  I like five syllable words which have nice assonance and rhythm once you’ve worked out how to pronounce them, and mean something it would usually take a whole sentence or more to express, or is very difficult to describe without a specific word.  “Impassible” is fun, though it only has four syllables.

19. Are you a nerd, dork, or dweeb? Or all of the above?

I’m probably a geek.

20. Vampires or Fairies? Why?

Fairies.  Vampires give me nightmares.

21. Shapeshifters or Angels? Why?

For amusement, shapeshifters.  I spent too much time on the (rather speculative but nevertheless interesting and informative) metaphysics of angels.  I don’t know how many shapeshifters you can get on the head of a pin!  This makes reading about them more relaxing.

Admittedly, I do tend to notice if fantasy writers haven’t thought their story-world’s metaphysics through in a reasonably coherent way, regardless of what they’re writing about.

22. Spirits or Werewolves? Why?

I don’t mind.  So long as it is fantasy and not horror…

23. Zombies or Vampires?

For preference, neither!

24. Love Triangle or Forbidden Love?

Now I want to start comparing “Frozen” with” A Midsummer Night’s Dream”…

Forbidden love occurs in both, though with a rather unusual twist in “Frozen”.  There’s sort of a love triangle in both too, if the Kristoph-Anna-Hans thing counts.

Perhaps it isn’t so much of an “either-or” thing?

25. Full on romance books or action-packed with a few love scenes mixed in?

I definitely prefer romance as a side dish rather than a main.

 

Cherry Foster

Christmas Night

On that night,

The shaman looked out at the endless grass,

To frosty stars; wondering in heart, he said:

“The spirits are still and silent tonight,

For good and not for hurt.”

 

On that night,

A maid in red and gold and henna decked

Leapt up in joy as music sounded near,

Her sister calling with a trembling voice:

“At last, your bridegroom comes!”

 

On that night,

The teenage shepherdess, in fragrant fields

Of mountain pastures, caught a labouring ewe,

And she delivered into warm soft hay,

A single, spotless lamb.

 

In that dawn,

The watchman of an Oriental town,

A town beleaguered beyond help or hope,

Cried out in joy at the far distant sight,

“Our King is come to save!”

 

Cherry Foster

 

Angus Dei, wikipedia commons photo credit Victoria Edwards, copyright to attribution
Angus Dei. Source: Wikipedia Commons; Photo Credit: Victoria Edwards.

An Annoying Irony

Person-who-does-at-least-have-the-decency-to-be-frank-rather-than-clandistinely-spiteful:

“You told me you couldn’t do X, but you just did Y.  I can’t see how that makes sense.  People who can’t do X didn’t ought to be able to do Y either.  I’m not going to adjust for you or assist you any more, because it’s obvious you’re just a horrible person pretending to have a problem.”

Person-with-unconventional-physical-limitations (a.k.a. a disability):

“So, instead of rejoicing that my difficulties are less than you thought they were, and that you didn’t have to make the adjustments you seem so much to resent on that occasion, you accuse me of pretending because my physical limitations differ from your assumptions about how they ought to work?

“Let’s look at this logically, if rather over-simplistically.  It isn’t possible for someone to do what they aren’t able to do.  It is possible for someone to not do what they are able to do.  The only way in which I can make my condition look as if it fits incorrect assumptions of how it ought to be is to not do things which are perfectly possible.

“Therefore, what you are saying constitutes a social requirement to malinger.  If I do not pretend, I will be accused of pretending!”

 

Cherry Foster

Do Norfolk Owls have Fishy Habits?

 

Barn owl, wikimedia commons Peter K Burian copyright to attribution
Barn Owl. Source: Wikimedia Commons; Photo Credit: Peter K. Burian

This morning, when I was cycling to church with the first red streaks of dawn just emerging over the horizon, there was a splash to my right.  Then a bird flew over the road close in front of me, carrying what looked like a fish under its body in its talons, held with its streamlining facing forwards, in much the way ospreys tend to*. 

It was undoubtedly an owl.

Barn owls, in this area, do often hunt along the watercourses by day, a curious pattern, which I’ve tended to put down to the presence of rodents on the banks.  And I cannot be certain either of the species of owl (I see more barn owls, but hear more tawny owls) or that I was not mistaken in supposing its prey to be a fish.  However, I recognised – and was surprised by – the fish, before I looked at the bird, and there is a river in the locality: it is perfectly possible, particularly given the splash.

I am intrigued.  Has anyone else noticed or found evidence of similar behaviour in British owls?

Cherry Foster

 

*In David Attenborough’s “Life of Birds” a fishing osprey is featured in the second episode, “The Mastery of Flight,” carrying a fish in just that way apparently to reduce drag.

Daughter of Zion

A poem for Advent

Daughter of Zion, rejoice!

Behold thy Bridegroom come,

Bourne on the ass’s colt,

Bourne in thy maiden’s womb.

          He comes, the wisdom from above,

          He comes, who orders all in love.

Daughter of Zion, rejoice!

He comes thy siege to lift.

No more to mourn or grieve,

He comes who is God’s gift.

        He who to Moses from the flame

        Spake, comes now to redeem thy fame.

Daughter of Zion, rejoice!

Shake off the clinging dust,

Cast away idol forms,

Place in Him all your trust,

          The root of Jesse, silent now,

          Before Him speechless kings shall bow.

Daughter of Zion, rejoice!

Thy widowhood is o’er,

Restored thou art to Him,

Who is for evermore.

          Unto the lock put out thy hand,

          The key is turned that naught withstands.

Daughter of Zion, rejoice!

From grief and dark arise,

Thy labour pains are o’er,

Shake sleep off from thine eyes.

          The Light arises on thy death,

          The dry bones waken with His breath.

Daughter of Zion, rejoice!

Thy nakedness is gone,

Thy time for love is near,

Clothed with the stars and sun,

        The King is come of thy desire

        Who shall save thee by blood and fire.

Daughter of Zion, rejoice!

Laugh at thy raging foes,

Trample with hooves of brass,

Break them with many blows.

          Emmanuel, thy God, is near,

          Thy hope, thy love, the end of fear.

                           ***

Daughter of Zion, rejoice,

He that seeks truth is come,

In whom all pardoned are,

Thy dear, most glorious Son.

          ‘O Virgin, how can all this be?’

          ‘It is Love’s utmost mystery.’

 

Cherry Foster